After delaying a vote on a motion to upgrade and expand the Kinsmen Aquatic Centre and Barnett Arenas facility, colloquially known as the Lacombe Arena,
Lacombe council has instead decided to explore the possibility of building a new facility through partnership with neighbouring municipalities.
The decision came after much heated debate in Council Chambers and after a failed motion made by Councillor Peter Bouwsema to address existing code issues in the building as well as make expansions and improvements to the facility.
It was Bouwsema who first brought up the idea of building a new facility, saying that it was something being talked about a lot in the community and on social media.
Councillor Grant Harder agreed with Bouwsema that there were other options not being considered.
“I don’t think we have turned over enough stones and there are still things we need to look at,” said Harder. He added that he would like to see administration enter into negotiations with the Town of Blackfalds and the County of Lacombe regarding the possibility of building a new facility.
Councillor Wayne Rempel also agreed that more options should considered, but cautioned his fellow councillors on rushing to build facilities for Lacombe. He said there are facilities he has heard Lacombe should have, like gymnasiums and other ice surfaces, but that doesn’t mean the City should build them all at once or abandon facilities that already exist.
“I totally agree, I think we should have all that,” said Rempel. “But what it comes down to is money. We can’t just ignore a building that we have and plan for something down the road.”
Rempel said that speaking to other municipalities about the possibility of joint facilities is important and responsible, but should be done in addition to, not alternative to, caring for existing facilities.
Councillor Wayne Armishaw shared similar thoughts, but said that it would be irresponsible to make a decision to upgrade without looking at other opportunities first.
“There is no denying this building still has a useful life and we can bring this building back to life,” said Armishaw. “But (either renovation option) is a hasty decision without exploring further options.”
Councillor Reuben Konnik said he had several issues with the costs of the project, both the cost of the project itself as well as the projected tax increases. He said that, while a large demographic within Lacombe enjoys use of the Lacombe Arena, he would rather see those kinds of tax dollars and such a tax increase go towards a project that the entire community could benefit from.
Konnik also implied the renovations might not be necessary at all.
“I see there is a lot of life left in this building even as it is.”
While Bouwsema brought up the idea of building new, saying it was important to address it and mentioning how a new build would be a substantial cost increase from the current project, he also said that he did not think it was the path council should go down, reiterating his support for his motion to upgrade and expand the facility, made the previous meeting.
“(If we do that) we are basically saying to our citizens that we don’t want to put any more money into an old building,” said Bouwsema. “We are gradually going to be decommissioning portions of it because we are no longer in compliance with the Alberta Building Code. That’s not a concept that I think we should support. It is much more sustainable to renovate something that is existing than to start all over from scratch. We still need to address the fact that we have some things with this building that are not up to snuff. I believe – and that’s why I made the motion last time – that we still need to proceed with this project.”
Mayor Steve Christie agreed.
“I’m not prepared to have a building there that we start to decommission areas,” said Christie.
However, the majority of council voted against Bouwsema’s motion to upgrade at a cost of approximately $14 million. Council instead passed a motion to abstain from moving ahead with renovations until conversation with neighbouring municipalities could be had. After further discussion, another motion was passed to revisit the issue within three months, whether interest in a new facility had been determined or not.